Meals now cooked with the Sun

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Story submitted by Glen Kizer

In many countries there is a principle in their legal system known as “Good Samaritan Laws” that make it a duty for people to help others in need. If you see someone drowning, but you cannot swim, you are not required to jump in and try and save them because you would be at serious risk yourself. But if you are not at serious risk, you are required to help others in need. In the United States, Good Samaritan Laws are designed to remove the worry you might have about being sued in case something goes wrong with your attempt to prevent the person from drowning. We are a litigious society and here it is not only the risk of harm to our physical life that might creation some hesitation to help another person in trouble, but the concern that the person we are trying to help might later sue us. Many countries require you to help. In the US, we don’t require you to help, but if you choose to, we may help reduce the risk of a lawsuit being filed by the victim or the victim’s family. It is a subtle, but important difference and I think of this whenever I am in the building of “Project Open Hand” in downtown San Francisco.

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In 1985, Ruth Brinker, a retired grandmother who could cook heard of a close neighbor with AIDS dying-from malnutrition. She began cooking and delivering hot meals to seven people. Demand from the community grew quickly, as did financial and volunteer support. San Francisco’s Trinity Church loaned Ruth their kitchen and Project Open Hand (POH) was born.

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Project Open Hand has broadened the reach of its services to include seniors and those who are homebound and critically ill in San Francisco and Alameda County.

In an average month, Project Open Hand provides:

  • 36,000 meals to clients with HIV and other critical illnesses
  • 32,000 lunches for seniors
  • Groceries for over 5,000 clients

There is paid staff, but it is the huge number of volunteers chopping up vegetables and getting meals and grocery bags ready for delivery 365 days a year that is the most amazing part of this operation from where I was standing recently on the roof of POH. They had just completed a project with PG&E to add both solar electricity (23 kW) and solar thermal water heating for the kitchen to the roof of the POH building in downtown San Francisco. In addition to all the good they do in their primary mission, they want to reduce pollution while they are doing it.

Here are some images taken by Dan Schuman, Operations Director at Project Open Hand:

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The PG&E donation will help produce 30,000 kWh of clean electricity and more than 170,000 gallons of clean hot water each year. It is a unique project. Many buildings have solar electricity and many others have solar thermal water heating systems. Very few buildings have both. If nothing else, it is also an educational roof. For anyone who is confused by the two technologies they can see solar electricity and solar thermal heating systems within a few feet of each other. I am already suggesting schools tour the roof to see the two technologies working in partnership to create two forms of energy that every building needs.

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POH expects to save about $12,000 in the first year through lower utility bills. POH is also planning on a phase 2 for both the solar electricity and the solar thermal water heating systems. They are an ambitious group. Just listen to POH Director of Operations Dan Schuman.

Here are some more images taken by Dan:

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“Money not spent on overhead is money we can spend on services,” says Dan. “$12,000 adds up to 6,700 home delivered meals.”

The rooftop solar energy systems were dedicated on September 13, 2007 at a solar celebration in which a group of people gathered to hear POH Executive Director Tom Nolan, PG&E CEO Bill Morrow, San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, San Francisco Commission on the Environment President Paul Pelosi, Jr. and Dan Schuman. PG&E volunteers staffed the kitchen and had to stop cooking long enough to run up and listen to their CEO thank everyone and then they all ran back to the kitchen.

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But it wasn’t just the dignitaries who showed up. Solar City (Lyndon Rive), the system integrator for the solar electricity system was there, as was Luminalt (Noel Cotter), the contractor for the solar thermal water heating system, and Schuco, the manufacturer of the solar thermal panels and it was not just their Presidents. They wanted their employees to see that this project was special because the work being done by Project Open Hand is special. I also need to mention Karalee Browne of PG&E who was so instrumental in this project. Karalee is pregnant and her belly grew as the project grew. And only a few of us know how much Alyssa Newman worked to make the entire solar energy part of the project a huge success. For profit corporations and non-profit corporations and government and individuals all with different backgrounds and somewhat different motivations, but with a common goal to thank the people at Project Open Hand for the work they have been doing to make meals for those who cannot make their own meals and for adding the “environment” to their “to do” list. The POH motto is “meals with love.”

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I was there representing the Foundation for Environmental Education and two little things left a lasting impression on me.

  1. Project Open Hand fixed lunch for all of the guests at the solar celebration. It was just like we were another group that needed a good hot meal. And the meal was delicious. I even had a cookie.
  2. That Dan Schuman ended by saying, “I love to talk about what the new energy systems do for us in terms of providing energy to us that we don’t have to buy and that saves us money. But I also like to point out what it doesn’t do.It doesn’t pollute!And we will reduce CO2 greenhouse emissions by 2 million pounds over the life of the two systems.And we plan on expanding both the PV array and the solar thermal water heating systems.”


With all of the meals and groceries coming out of a kitchen that never gets a day off, they are also concerned about their responsibility to their community. They never tire, they never hesitate, and they never stop doing good work. When I walk through the POH building, I find the people friendly and helpful and so much is being done for so many. Many of us think about doing good and many of us do a few good things. The people at Project Open Hand can actually be called “Good Samaritans.”

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